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Districts and families in limbo over proposed cut to new kindergarten program

01.18.2012 | Ventura County Star | Cheri Carlson

Alyce LaLiberte has no great options.

Her daughter, Addisynn, turns 5 in November — nine days past the state’s new cutoff to register for kindergarten.

To enroll in regular kindergarten classes in the fall, children must
turn 5 by Nov. 1, a month earlier than for this school year.

The state is moving up the birthday cutoff gradually over three
years. By 2014, children will have to turn 5 by Sept. 1 to be eligible —
a move legislators approved in 2010 to boost student achievement and
bring California in line with most other states.

A new state law requires districts to put transitional kindergarten programs in place for children like Addisynn.

But
Gov. Jerry Brown
last week proposed eliminating that mandate. Faced with an estimated $9
billion budget deficit, officials said now is not the time to expand or
create programs. The move could save $224 million in 2012-13.

Preschool advocates, however, say the plan will shut thousands of
children out of public education. Educators, lawmakers and others vow to
fight the proposal.

The situation has left LaLiberte in a holding pattern as she tries to make sure her daughter has a spot somewhere this fall.

“It’s seriously what I think about every day,” the Simi Valley resident said. “It’s very frustrating.”

The governor’s budget is just the first step in the budget process.
Legislators must weigh in, and officials say a lot could change.

Districts faced challenges getting new transitional programs ready, but now they’re stuck in limbo.

“We’re just working in the dark,” said Robert Iezza, elementary education director in the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Conejo Valley and other local districts said they plan to continue moving forward with transitional programs.

Some districts already have similar classes, geared toward children
with fall or even summer birthdays. At the end of the first year,
parents and teachers decide whether the pupils are ready for first grade
or kindergarten. Most choose  kindergarten.

In the past, all those children have made the age requirement for kindergarten. This fall, those with November birthdays won’t.

California has a waiver option that could be used to let some pupils
into kindergarten, but how or if that process would work is unclear.

With the proposal to cut state funding, district officials said they
are having to tell families things are up in the air for children with
November birthdays. Officials estimate about 40,000 pupils statewide
will fit into that category in 2012-13. About 120,000 children are
expected to qualify for the transitional programs in 2014.

The Simi Valley Unified School District plans to move forward with
its transitional program. The district has had a similar program before,
offered to some of the youngest kindergarten-eligible children.

Officials are planning to expand it to more campuses in the fall but
caution parents that it might not be available for children born in
November, said Ron Todo, elementary education director.

About 100 to 120 pupils in the district could be affected. Todo said
the district hopes the state will come up with another solution and that
local officials may search for more funding if the state
cuts the money.

LaLiberte said she will have to continue paying tuition at a
preschool but that she worries the wait could put preschool out
of reach, too.

Preschool spots are competitive, she said. If she has to wait to see
what happens with the state budget, she could lose her daughter’s spot
in the preschool.

The Las Virgenes Unified School District has had a transitional
program, Journeys, for four years and plans to keep it going. From its
start, the classes have filled up and had waiting lists, said Carol
Martino, principal of Sumac School in Agoura Hills.

“If they cut the funding for the November students, we will continue
to have the Journeys program. But obviously, if they don’t fund, we
won’t be necessarily serving those November kids,” said Rose Dunn, the
district’s director of instruction.

“It will be difficult to run the programs, given the kind of cuts that we’ve had, for free,” she said.

Preliminary estimates say the district may have 50 pupils with November birthdays who would be affected.

“It really speaks to the need to have a more stable funding source
for education, because to be having to make decisions like ‘today you’re
in; tomorrow you’re out’ is really unconscionable for children,”
Dunn said.

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